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The Stories of John Cheever Paperback – May 16, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Think of John Cheever's fiction, and a whole world springs to mind--a world of leafy suburbs, summer houses, commuter trains, boarding schools, and inevitably, his own chosen territory, the cocktail hour among WASPs. But it's a mistake to approach Cheever as if he were merely some sort of anthropologist documenting the customs of an obscure and vanishing tribe. Nostalgia and class issues aside, his true subject is the darkness hidden beneath the surface of postwar American life. A case in point is his famous story "The Swimmer," in which an ebullient Neddy Merrill decides to swim home across the backyard pools of his neighbors. In the course of his journey, however, summer gives way to autumn, his neighbors turn against him, there are troubling intimations of disgrace and financial ruin, and he arrives to find his house both locked and empty.

Though these stories deal with bright, prosperous, ostensibly happy people, a cold wind blows through them. Age, illness, financial embarrassment, sex, alcohol, death--all of these threaten his suburban Eden. (Is it himself Cheever is mocking in his ironic "The Worm in the Apple"? "Everyone in the community with wandering hands had given them both a try but they had been put off. What was the source of this constancy? Were they frightened? Were they prudish? Were they monogamous? What was at the bottom of this appearance of happiness?") Inanimate objects carry the residue of their past owners' unhappiness and cruelty ("Seaside Houses," "The Lowboy"); expatriates long for but cannot quite find their way home ("The Woman Without A Country," "Boy in Rome"); children vanish or turn out badly (too many stories to count).

All of this is conveyed in prose both graceful and tender. No one is better than Cheever at describing a character's appearance: "He was a cheerful, heavy man with a round face that looked exactly like a pudding. Everyone was glad to see him, as one is glad to see, at the end of a meal, the appearance of a bland, fragrant, and nourishing dish made of fresh eggs, nutmeg, and country cream." Given his uncanny eye (and ear) for realistic description, it's easy to forget how experimental Cheever could be. His later stories pioneered authorial intrusions in the best postmodern style, and from the beginning, he wrote what would much later be called magical realism. (Think of the sinister broadcasts in "The Enormous Radio," or the phantom love interest in "The Chimera.") A literary event at its publication and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, The Stories of John Cheever remains a stunning and enormously influential book. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"John Cheever is an enchanted realist, and his voice, in his luminous short stories and in incomparable novels like Bullet Park and Falconer, is as rich and distinctive as any of the leading voices of postwar American literature." —Philip Roth

"As stories go, as compellingly readable narratives of a certainsort of people in a certain time and place—our time and place—John Cheever's stories are, simply, the best." —The Washington Post

"Profound and daring...some of the most wonderful stories any American has written." —The Boston Globe

"Not merely the publishing event of the 'season' but a grand occasion in English literature." —The New York Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375724427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724428
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought a used copy of this book and on the cover there is an upper middle class couple having drinks around a dining table in the drained swimming pool in their backyard. At first I didn't think much of it, but after reading the stories, I think it makes so much sense. There is always something slightly off about Cheever's stories, but it's hard to put your finger on what that is. It took me a little while to get into these stories, but after a while I came to love them. By the end of the book, the ending of the story, Another Story, knocked me breathless. The best ending to a short story I've ever read. I have also see how influential Cheever was on contemporary American short story writers, at least Tobias Wolff, Mary Robison and I think Lorrie Moore as well. This is the sort of book you want to savor , a couple stories a day. Cheever is a master of subtly shifting the mood of a piece. Out of the blue you'll suddenly realize you're in a different place from where you started.
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Format: Paperback
Most of my students scratch their heads and mutter "Who?" when I tell them they will be reading the selected stories of John Cheever. When I tell them that Cheever is a representative of upper crusty, mid-twentieth century, cosmopolitan American cities, the sighs and groans can be heard crosstown.
Then they read the stories: "Goodbye, My Brother", "The Swimmer", "The Enormous Radio"... And the discussions are as lively as any instructor could hope for.
And their excitement reminds me over and again of the thrill I had reading these stories for the first time. (I'm almost jealous of my students--I miss that first time pleasure.) These are stories perfect in their craftsmanship, memorable in their characters, and decidedly superior to anything of his time, and just about anything since. Pick up this collection and enjoy.
Rocco Dormarunno,
College of New Rochelle
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the best short story American books I've read. Cheever narrates these stories about ordinary people in a simplistic and nervous fashion. Cheever subtlety describes his characters as pathetic in a sarcastic way but effectively manages to get his readers to like them. His stories are at times shady, moralistic, and mystical that keeps you practically glued to the pages of the book. My favorites are The Swimmer, and The Enormous Radio. Even though his topics touch on the lives of the so called "Wasps", I don't think you have to be one, but have the knowledge of how people that live in quiet desperation live in order to understand and enjoy Cheever's writings.
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Format: Paperback
I don't imagine that John Cheever is much read these days by English Lit. types. These brilliant stories of love and loss among the genteel, drunken, and declasse WASP gentry are about as far as it is possible to get from the noisy concerns of the PoMo/multicultural/gender studies/Lit Crit. crowd. Which is only one of the reasons why the truly literate will still be reading Cheever's stories when Foucault, Derrida, De Man, Lacan and the rest of the French sophists are footnotes in future works about curious intellectual fads (yes, yes, I know: De Man was Belgian). You see, art always triumphs over kitsch; it may take an unconscionably long time in some cases, but in the end, art wins. And Cheever was nothing if not an artist, as the many small masterpieces contained in this collection amply demonstrate: "Goodbye, My Brother," "The Lowboy," "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill," "The Swimmer," "The Five-Forty-Eight," "The Cure," "The Sorrows of Gin," and so on, and on. The mood in these stories is predominantly one of melancholy and regret: regret that love, no matter how fierce and strong, will never last a lifetime; regret for the many small acts of cruelty that failed love and dashed dreams will force good men to commit; regret for what might have been, but was not, for what was and need not have been. But the melancholy and regret is tempered with a muted joy, inspired by the understanding that the same spiritual and moral isolation that prevents any man from ever fully connecting with another person also makes him autonomous and free. The obvious comparison is with Chekov; but such comparisons are seldom very helpful, and in this case would only serve to obscure the essential fact that Cheever was one of the finest artists this country has produced.
But you don't have take my word for it.
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By Cosmoetica on September 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Of all the archetypal New Yorker short story writers of the Twentieth Century- John O'Hara, John Updike, Alice Adams, J.D. Salinger- perhaps the best of them was John Cheever- and he was certainly the best of the three big Johns. That said, I do not particularly like John Cheever's stories. Of the over sixty tales in this collection a good thee quarters involved characters that do not personally interest me- mid-Twentieth Century upper crust whites, martini-totaling who seem as stranded on the island of Manhattan, or his fictive suburb of Shady Hill, physically as their views of the world are intellectually. In his world even middle class people have maids. But, almost all of the tales are tight and well-wrought, and that's an important distinction to note when reviewing, for few critics are able to separate themselves from their biases and inclinations. That said, while the tales are good, and at their best, very good, excellent, and even near-great, there isn't a one that really leapt out as being inarguably great, mostly because they are tales that work on only one or two levels, even when ricjly layered. This is because they follow a formula, the New Yorker formula, and follow it well, but Cheever never achieves an expansion of his character's worlds the way he tinkers incessantly with the interior narrative structures. To use a metaphor, his stories are solidly and well built, but the interior decorating can be atrocious.

His tales almost always start off with a good and/or arresting start, and his ends are also usually quite deft. The middle sometimes sag, in even the best tales, not because of length, but because the tales are so dependent upon their extreme supports....
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